I really didn’t believe in these “revelatory” things, but the breathing, breath hold, the cold therapy, and the other exercise I am doing through the 10-week program with Wim Hof are changing my attitude.
I cannot explain the physiological changes, and I cannot explain the mental changes, but I am more positive about life than I have been in a long time. I have not changed my diet. I still surf and exercise the same, but I am happier and (I think) I am treating others better.
Filled with my positive outlook, I got some lucky hands dealt during the week. First, some big waves came to San Diego. One of my personal 2017 goals was to surf 20 ft. surf this winter (before March 31), and I was scared. I had not ridden waves that big in a long time. I was also scared that I would not get the opportunity to surf 20 ft. surf in San Diego this winter. I was afraid I would have to travel to some Central California coast, giant, cold, intimidating, mutant-thing of a wave that I had never surfed before just to achieve my goal. Thankfully, I only had to drive to La Jolla.
Second, I had a friend, Grant Manning, willing to brave the weather last week (rainy and windy) and a long paddle (1,000+ yards) in big, burly surf. Grant is a great guy, and I am so happy to have another idiot to go surfing with. I like to push myself into some strange situations and so does Grant. He is an amazing skateboarder an avid snowboarder and surfer, and we have put ourselves in big waves and fun adventures for a few years.
Last Saturday was different. Unusual for San Diego, the previous 6 days were consistent rain. The ocean turned milk chocolate brown from all the soil and detritus rolling down the canyons. The winds were still blowing 15-20 knots, and we decided to go and surf La Jolla Cove.
Never having surfed “the Cove” before, we paddled out to the main break from the “safety” of the beach nearly 1,000 yards away. The paddle was not easy. The normally non-existent waves were breaking a solid 6 foot at the beach. Outside of the waves breaking on the beach, the ocean was a challenging soup of current, waves, wind, and spray. Grant and I paddled through this morass on our significantly undersized boards, and we got tossed around like little plastic toys in a 5-year old boy’s bathtub.
During our paddle to where the surf was breaking, I had a lot of time to think. The current was pushing us north at about 2-3 knots, and we needed to get south. The wind spit in our faces, and the whitecap tops of large waves were, like a teenage bully, constantly knocking us sideways. I was using the Wim Hof breathing to calm my nerves, and paddling my board towards the point and the breaking waves.
At one point, I distinctly remember being conscious of my surroundings. A big wave had just come through. The wave exploded in front of me sounding like violence. I came up on the other side of the wave and there was no sound. It was a strange moment. Total silence. All by myself. Zen calm and nuclear moments of chaos. The paradox was inescapable.
I understand that many people who don’t surf think I am crazy for wanting to surf 20 foot surf. Worse, it is a bit self-aggrandizing to make surfing big waves a personal goal. Even more embarrassing is my need to tell people about my goal so that I would have enough positive peer pressure to bolster my courage. However, to put my current situation into context, 20 ft. surf is not considered big in today’s surfing community. Big Surf – as they would define it- starts at 30 ft.-40 ft. waves.
I am certain that I will never surf 100 ft. waves, but I will continue to push my personal limits.
This last week, during my Wim Hof training, I held my breath after a full exhale for 3:02. I was surprised and proud of my progress (at the start of my Wim Hof training, my first breath hold was 48 seconds). My breathing practice gave me comfort and the confidence to calm my fears.
I surfed the La Jolla Cove for about 3 hours. I caught about 10-15 waves mostly between the 15-25 ft. range and had a blast. Grant and I surfed by ourselves for about an hour and then two other surfers paddled out on their proper big wave equipment.
As the first guy paddled by, he asked, “You getting any out here?”
“A few.” I said
“Nowhere else to surf today.”
“Ok. Good luck.”
That was it. Nothing more to say. Big wave surfers are understated. He looked at me with a little smile that belied his lack of confidence in me, but he was nice and never would have said anything.
It was then that I realized that I am not a big wave surfer. He had done this before and had his gear in order. I did not.
If you have ever tried to play basketball in sandals, you know how I felt. He paddled by me on his 9’ 6” big wave board. He was wearing a hood, booties, and had a leash as thick as bamboo.
I was riding the biggest board I have – 7’4” (which was probably too small to paddle into the biggest waves that day). My board is 15 years old. My leash is a short board leash and never meant for waves this size. After one of my earlier encounters with the underside of a large set wave, my 6 ft. leash stretched inside the pressure of the wave to 10 ft. Thankfully, it didn’t break.
“Have fun!” I hollered back to him as he paddled towards the outside point.
I did not know it at the time, but I just met Derek Dunfee. Derek is a photographer and real big wave surfer. He is well known and has competed in many big wave contests.
This brief interaction with Derek Dunfee was my reality check. I had caught about 6 waves before he came out. I was sitting where I knew I was safe, but I could still get the big waves that would swing north of the point over the deeper reef. I was over my fears, and enjoying the day.
Oddly, that interaction with Derek made me feel even better about our little adventure. I was fulfilling a goal, overcoming my fear, and doing it all on the wrong gear.
I am not sure why, but that realization gave me a sense of pride.
I caught a few more waves, Grant broke his board on the wave below and had to swim in, and we called it a day.
The next great thing that happened last week was Jeff Bridges.
Music is a big part of my life, and this was a special show. I felt lucky to be there with friends watching some talented musicians. Monday night was another bit of positive luck and helped me embrace a more meaningful side of my life.
Tuesday, another stroke of good luck. It was raining, but the winds were calm and the waves were big. After my morning Wim Hof breathing practice, I walked out in the rain to check the surf. It was as big as the Saturday at the Cove but there was less wind. It was dark and rainy. Nobody was surfing. The waves looked big but manageable.
Grant and I paddled out. The waves were angry and persistent. Because I was surfing a very familiar spot, I expected that I would be able to handle the big waves. The tide was dropping fast, and I thought that I would know where the good waves would break and could avoid the wrong waves. I was expecting to have the day of the Winter. I was expecting good barrels and fun with friends.
I was wrong. It was so big and so messy that there were waves breaking in spots, on reefs, and in ways I had never seen before. I surf this spot at least 60 days per year, and it looked nothing like the normal days.
During our 30-minute paddle through the mess, Grant broke his second board of the week (before he had a chance to catch any waves) and had to swim back in. I watched Grant climb the stairs back to the parking lot. I surfed alone.
The large swells merged shadows and clouds on the horizon. Watching the dark brown kelp undulate and stretch with the rising swell was my indicator of a large set of waves coming. I paddled where I thought I should, and I dodged huge sets. Finally, I saw a wave that I thought would work. I turned quickly and paddled with deep strokes in the belly of the wave.
I jumped to my feet, and as the bottom of the wave ran away from me, my board fluttered weightless in as the wind rushed by my cheeks. When my board landed and I hit the bottom of the wave, I could not stay standing. Involuntarily, I fell forward, with my arms spread like a condor, and accidentally body-surfed into a massive cavern. Looking up I watched the lip of the wave throw dark green water over my head. I kept waiting for an impact, and when it didn’t come, I rolled over and looked directly at the oncoming jade wall of water before the wave swallowed me.
I managed to ride (on my feet) 3 waves in 2 hours. The situation felt intense and required a lot of focus. It did not feel good. It felt out of control.
Feeling defeated and alone, I made the half mile paddle down to Cardiff Reef where I knew I would find other people. Maybe I would learn that I was just surfing the wrong spot, but surprisingly, there were only three other guys surfing this normally popular spot.
Cardiff Reef was more like snowboarding than surfing. The waves were large slopes of water breaking nearly .5 miles out to sea on the outermost reefs. The tops of the waves would cap and crumble 150 yards outside of where we were sitting, and then the same waves would organize into clean lines, double up on themselves, and rifle through the inside reef. I caught two waves in the following 2 hours. During that time, I got flogged by several rogue sets, watched one guy nearly drown (he was rattled and immediately went in to shore), and saw some of the biggest barrels I had ever seen at Cardiff Reef. It was a cool experience, and I reflected on it as I got out of the water and made the mile long walk back to my house.
I have a lot of stress in my life, but I have very little physical stress. Surfing big waves takes away all my worldly stress and focuses me in on only my current physical state. It is exhausting, but in a good way. I feel tired, but not stressed.
I wish I could say that this is some revelation, akin to my Wim Hof discovery, but it’s not. I know that surfing big waves makes me focus and forget. I need the intensity to calm my monkey mind.
I rarely get that opportunity.
I can’t just travel and chase big adventures. I am anchored to responsibilities. I have obligations and commitments. If minimalism is stripping things away to get to a clear answer, I have already committed to too much stuff to gain clarity.
The weight of these thoughts crept like Gollum from the back of my brain to the forefront. Back to reality. Back to work.